It’s that time of year again when I escape the clutches of Shad’s claws and have a short break in Tenerife. I’m only kidding Shad, you know you’re the only one for me! And of course I missed your 4.30am wake up calls and the way you curl your talons, I mean your tail, around my legs!
Last time I went away I was surrounded by the snow of Innsbruck but this time I opted for scorching sunshine and high winds down at El-Médano to see the Wind and Kite Surfers.
El Médano is one of the world’s best windsurfing/kitesurfing locations, with three different windsurfing spots – the Bay (flat/swell), the Harbour Wall (wavespot sideshore), and Cabezo Beach (wavespot onshore). The main bay is divided into three areas, the general sailing area with very good entry and exit points, the swimming area, marked by a chain of buoys and the pigs bay. I have no idea why it’s called that.
The furball will be pleased he stayed curled up at home because he doesn’t like the heat…… The temperatures hit a high of 37 deg and Shad’s fur coat goes all clumpy and wiry when he gets too hot. Not a good look. We won’t mention my curly black hair or as Shad would say silky grey….
John and I decided to inject a little class into our lives with a trip to St Pauls Church in West Sussex to listen to the Chichester Symphony Orchestra play classical melodies from the likes of Bizet’s opera Carmen and the works of Russian-born composer Tchaikovsky. Did you know that Tchaikovsky’s first known composition was a song written at the age of four. Four! Now that’s talent. So the orchestra are highly regarded amateurs who only perform 3 concerts a year in Chichester and John and I were given special dispensation to attend in order to capture the scene. In other words, it was a freebie, and with a tasty salmon snack at the interval and a soft blanket under the orange hue of a stained-glass window I was one satisfied feline!
At home my ears are often subjected to cheesy sounds from the seventies such as Metallica, Meatloaf, Deep Purple and Dire Straits or endless renditions of Starship’s ‘We Built This City’, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and Huey Lewis and the News ‘Stuck with You’. This usually results in me curling up under the wardrobe with my paws in my ears or shutting myself in the biscuit cupboard in an attempt to dull the noise. However John sometimes plays one particular CD that is guaranteed to entice me out of my hidey hole – the soothing tones of Josh Groban singing ‘Coffee on the Table’ or ‘Le Temps des Cathedrales’. The rich melodic tones and instrumental brilliance of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra playing with the acoustics of a large 19th century church can now also go on my list of favourites. It was an emotional roller-coaster of gloomy echoes followed by galloping tunes interspersed with thumps from the drums and blasts from the French horn that really made me jump! I felt that the music conveyed the joys and sorrows of life with appeal and integrity. In the end the talented performers led the music into a turbo-charged climax that left me shattered and flabbergasted at how so many instruments, a harp, a giant gong, flutes, violins, cellos, bassoons, a tuba and piccolo, can all be played at the same time in such harmony.
Last weekend at Wiston Park in Steyning thousands of people gathered together to celebrate the age of steam and it was wonderful to see young and old joining together to be part of a community event. The Wiston Steam Fair is volunteer-led, no big corporations, just charitable organisations and local businesses keen to commemorate the development of the commercial steam engine and show-off their steam-related contraptions. It’s a far cry from the digital world we live in now and it’s a reminder of life before automation when people lived and worked in the country, handcrafting goods in workshops and not washing their hands. Then steam power replaced wind and water power as a means to drive machinery during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and humanity plunged down a new trajectory that would change the face of the world in many ways.
Thankfully the mid-morning sun was a pleasant 19c as opposed to the crazy 26c the south coast had endured over the previous few days, so the grass felt cool under my paws and John didn’t have to pack my frozen water bottle which I lick when I get too hot. As we wandered along the rows of exhibits, my senses were stirred by bizarre sounds and smells like the pungent whiff of hot-dogs and chips and the discordant mix of tunes from the carnival rides and the fairground organ. I stood mesmerised by the carousel going round and round with the porcelain ponies going up and down and I had to fight the urge the jump up for a ride. I thought it would be fun and I was sure an attractive black feline would get a discount on the admission price so I hopped on, picturing myself sitting debonair atop a haughty horse. Sadly the reality was quite different and the undulating flow of movement gave me motion sickness. I stepped carefully towards the edge of the merry-go-round swaying back and forth when my John appeared from nowhere and scooped me into his arms. Well that was fine, there was no time for frivolity anyway as John was keen to ditch the digital for the day and start using his old-fashioned second-hand film camera.
There were hundreds of exhibits as well as displays of more than 50 different steam machines from rollers to locomotives, lorries and traction engines. Some of them were rusty and dirty straight from the farm, while others looked pristine coated in shiny paints of burgundy or British racing green. Whatever the condition of the engine, each one was tended to with pride by people tinkering with mechanical parts or polishing brass-work and wooden panels. A little girl waved at me as she drove her miniature plough past me and the cheeky miniature train driver tooted his klaxon which made my jump. John and I caught the trailer ride up the hill and I’ve never seen so many buses in one place before. Yellow, green and red double-deckers as far as my eyes could see, along with old military vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles. We followed the vintage vehicle parade down to the next field while I scanned the spectacle for a yellow Robin Reliant van labelled Trotters Independent Traders. Although I didn’t see any faces I recognised from Only Fools and Horses, there were plenty of Del Boys around, like this guy eating an ice-cream with his rusty brown dog who was wagging his tail furiously while he licked his vanilla cone.
I wondered what they would think about a portly black cat from a nice home that had all the food, toys and love a domesticated feline could ever want. They would see my good fortune in my round tummy and silky fur as soon as I walked through the gate. But I had nothing to fear from Big Dog, Holly, Sable and Topaz, just some of the many dogs residing at the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue Centre in Bulgaria. These dogs get so excited when they see a new face because they know it means lots of love and attention, but life was very different for every one of these animals before they were rescued. This is not the place to go into details but the cruelty and neglect that these courageous canines have endured goes beyond my comprehension to the further reaches of the darkest souls. This is why it filled my purring heart with joy to see Dazzle and Kalahni swishing their tails with delight as they chased their battered plastic ball across the yard looking plump and fluffy.
I travelled through cities like Sofia and Plovdiv to get to my destination and watched the scenery morph from concrete jungles into the stunning landscapes that surround the shelter. Thick forests of bristle-coned pine trees in every shade of green looked 500 feet tall and mountains so high they were capped by snow and obscured by wispy clouds that floated across this part of the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria near the Greek border. I walked along the stony edge of a lively river that surged past the shelter with Albert, Khaleesi and Big Dog and they all laughed at me when I meticulously shook and licked each paw dry after our trek. I helped bath Pippa, a cute long-haired red-head who had got in a mess and I cleaned Stanley the puppy’s wound so that he could heal and be introduced to some new playmates, like Boomer, Punch and Wills, a litter of puppies found wandering around in the road.
It’s not easy taking a traumatised animal with no reason to trust people and helping it grow into the loving and loyal hound it was always meant to be. But Rudozem Street Dog Rescue is a place of refuge for humans and animals alike, a place of hope and restoration, of dependability and determination. And I was proud and honoured to be a part of it. RSDR founders Tony and Diane Rowles, whose commitment to waifs and strays is beyond measure, looked after me so well and I know there are many unseen hero’s working tirelessly behind the scenes to support their cause. My thanks to the lads working in the shelter who looked like scallywags from the wrong side of the tracks but who would have stood up to an angry crowd if it meant protecting the welfare of the streets cats and dogs. They cleared up the poo and kept me fed and watered so all I had left to do was the fun stuff – play, walk, talk and rub noses with the fantastic beasts at the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue.
Tilgate Nature Centre in Crawley is a nature reserve for protected and endangered species and is home to over 100 different animals ranging from reindeer and ravens to frogs and pheasants. It’s surrounded by lakes and gardens and lots of woodland and bridleways, far too much for one cat and his two-legged friend to explore in one day. I don’t think John would have the stamina! So we concentrated on the nature park and the fluffy, spikey, feathered and scaly specimens to be found within it. The beauty of nature is that it comes in so many different shapes and sizes like the spiny-tailed iguana who sat watching me from his branch. His eyes set on each side of his head as opposed to mine that face the front so I could only see one of his eyes and it was fixed on me. I started to sway back and forth, shifting my weight from side to side then dipping down and popping up to try in order to throw him off but that eye seemed to rotate in every direction and never once lost its target! I concluded that lizards can stare out anyone and accepted defeat. In an attempt to help me get over my downfall in the ogling competition with that scaly scoundral, the keeper told me that we had more in common than I might think. For example, we both had four clawed feet and a long tail and we both use body language and postures to define territory and resolve disputes. That all sounds like hard work to me and I prefer to put my energies into ensuring my daily dietary, play and petting needs are met by using whatever unique moves I have at my disposal including my irresistible purr and signature tail flick.
The sow in the field was busy feeding her piglets and every time I counted them there seemed to be more. I had 9 at the last count and these weren’t the only babies to have arrived in recent times at the park. Four pups had been born in the meerkat enclosure and were proving very popular with visitors thanks to their squeaky and mischievous natures, running around pinching food from each other and chasing the grown-ups. I had to admire their vitality which reminded me of myself in my younger days! The Asian short-clawed otters had a similar care-free outlook on life and seemed to be endlessly having fun, scurrying across their logs and splashing around in the water. The other babies we saw were the pygmy goat kids running around their rock pile and butting heads as though practising for when they are big and deciding who will be the alpha. And judging by the romantic behaviour of the tortoises, we might see some cute tortoise babies being hatched over the next few weeks. I noticed the keepers had filled their bowls with extra figs, dandelions and sweet-peppers probably to give them the strength required to bring up a family.
Petrie the one-eyed magpie cannot be released back into the wild because she doesn’t have the all her survival skills in tact so she lives with two friendly owls and passes her time whistling to anyone who talks to her and playing with her pink ball. The keepers fill the pink feeder with worms, leaves or pieces of fruit for her to roll around until the treats come out and she hops off to one of her secret stashes to hide her hoard when she thinks no one is looking. As we headed past Cinnamon and Nutmeg the Shetland ponies I caught a whiff of cat and I followed the scent until I found Kenya, a serval originally from the African savanna and now considered vulnerable due to habitat loss and persecution. Kenya was so busy rubbing his cheeks around his enrichment area and searching for the mousey morsels left in his den by the keeper that it took a while for him to notice me. With his powerful gaze in my direction, I puffed out my chest and tail so he’d have some respect for his small domesticated cousin looking up at him. Then I realised we were not so different after all as he pottered around his enclosure and settled down in a sunny spot for a nap.
Bears and tortoises hibernate in the winter but they’re not the only ones. Shad the Cat has been lying dormant over the winter period although obviously not hibernating in the true sense of the word. Real hibernation involves a sleep so deep that body temperature and heart rate would decrease and I would not be required to eat or eliminate body waste – 2 things essential to my daily routine! Since I’ve been inactive over the last couple of cold wet months, what better way to celebrate the coming of Spring than with new life in the form of little lambs as they begin their journey from carefree folly to maturity and beyond.
Gaston Farm in Slindon opens to the public in April for lambing season and gives everyone a chance to get up close to the sheep and see the lambs being born. John and I arrived just after one ewe had given birth to two little babies who were nuzzling their mum while their wobbly legs held them up. She was in what I called the ‘birthing barn’ which was a warm dry outhouse containing all the pregnant mums and sectioned off areas for the sheep who were about to lamb so that they could have their offspring safely. The shepherd told me that ewes will normally lamb without any need for assistance but sadly a few don’t make it through the birthing process resulting in orphans. Most sheep have two lambs but some have three or one, so the orphans and any lambs from a group of three are fostered by ewes with only one in order to make sure all the lambs have a mum and to minimise the risk of some mums working too hard with three lambs while others have too much milk for just one. It was all very magical and inspiring until things got icky when the shepherd took the afterbirth that had been expelled and gave it to his dog, demonstrating why his nickname was the Grumpy Shepherd!
We took a tractor and trailer ride out to the fields where the sheep live on the South Downs. It was bumpy along those country lanes and every time John got the camera lined up for a great shot the tractor driver would pull forward causing John to bounce up and down so it was difficult to get the camera steady. The driver said that the sheep in the fields had been moved there away from close supervision in the barns as their lambs had got stronger. Each ewe was then painted with a coloured number to indicate how many lambs they had produced. A green 27 was the 27th sheep to have one lamb, a blue 15 was the 15th sheep to have 3 lambs and a red 1 was the very first sheep to have twins this season. We caught a glimpse of this special set of twins just before the tractor heaved the trailer back towards the farm. By the time I hopped off the trailer I had a skip in my step like the Spring lambs cavorting in the fields and was determined that I would take a moment every day to appreciate the daffodils and bumble bees and warm sun on my belly. Goodbye winter and hello new life. Time to stock up on anti-histamines and sun-cream ready for John’s usual summer of sneezing!
Spring is just around the corner and wedding season will soon be upon us. Here at Shadow Photography John and I have been busy meeting brides and grooms to discuss the big day. From bouquets and beloveds to showers and centrepieces, everyone has their own idea of what makes a wedding day special and as official photographers we need to understand what those ideas are so that we can take pictures that reflect the individuality of each event. I’m not the marrying type myself, but if I ever met the feline of my dreams, I’d get married in a pair of wellies at a donkey sanctuary with zero flowers, no fuss and lots of cake (no raisins) .